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Thumbs Up For Surf's Up

A review of the recently released animated film, Surf's Up, starring Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges and Jon Heder.

Penguins seem to be as popular as Will Farrell these days. Since March of the Penguins stole our hearts in 2005, those cute little flightless underdogs have become a staple in Hollywood – and with good reason. They’re adorable, they glide on their bellies and they walk really funny. I’m laughing already.

But enough is enough, already. Like Will Farrell, penguins can get boring fast.

Mockumentary Nice New Approach

Thankfully, directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck had the sense to do something different with Surf’s Up. By using the mockumentary format, the film provides a breath of fresh air and carries the film along with much more flair than a straightforward movie would have.

The directors pulled this stunt off by not just relying on running jokes like cameraman injured in the line of fire and clumsy mic boom operators getting in the way, though those jokes are definitely there. What makes this gag work are the off-camera interviews and those uncomfortable moments of recognition between subject and camera – both provide a nice human touch to an otherwise bizarre story about surfing penguins. Parents will appreciate this approach, but whether or not the kids will even understand this new form of storytelling is uncertain.

The Story Goes Like This...

The mockumentary follows a rising teenage talent in the surfing world, one Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf of Disturbia), as he leaves home to compete in the 10th annual Big Z Memorial Tournament. Z, who supposedly died in a surfing accident, is the sole reason Cody ever wanted to become a surfer in the first place; he sees surfing as his way out of his boring home of Shiverpool.

Through a not-so-surprising turn of events, Cody is not only reunited with his idol, but Big Z (Jeff Bridges) takes him under his wing and teaches him the most important lesson of all – that the thrill and joy of surfing is the only real reward. Not the most inspiring lesson, but what else can you really do with surfing penguins?

New Friends

Along the way, Cody makes some friends. Jon Heder voices Chicken Joe – a CGI chicken version of Jeff Spicoli who is so laid back he doesn’t even realize his new friends are a band of tribal penguins trying to cook him. Every scene featuring Joe is a guaranteed laugh.

Then there’s Lani Aliikai, the movie sweetheart, voiced by Zooey Deschanel. Not really funny, but necessary.

Other delights include James Woods as the shameless, thankless, money-hungry, Don-King look-alike event promoter, Reggie Belafonte and his extremely unappreciated talent scout, Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone of Sex and the City fame.)

But the highlight of this movie will not be found anywhere on the cast closing credits. The real stars of this film are the guys and girls who brought the waves to life. The CGI gives a very realistic texture to the water, both above and under the surface. As pain-staking as it must have been to make those beautiful water tunnels, it was well worth it. The views are spectacular.

Despite its predictability, Surf’s Up delivers enough comic gems and successfully manages to turn something old into something new and enjoyable. That’s not to say Will Farrell should go out and buy a beaked tuxedo. No more penguins, please.

For more entertainment and movie reviews, films and more, check out Hollywood Insider.






Close Your Eyes

In the gruesome and glib stylish British psychological thriller Close Your Eyes, writer-director Nick Willing definitely conjures up something that certainly meets its dark, occult-induced overtones with ambitious fervor. However, Willing provides his gory goods with a hazy and hypnotic surge that more often than not resonates as an atmospheric chiller that tediously spices its narrative with recklessness involving impressionable kids and surgical rodents. Although Willing has designated his traumatic tale of hypnotherapy and its hallucinatory hokum as a riveting bombastic blur, Close Your Eyes feels rather empty and hollow in its putrid presentation. Occasionally, this narrative does manage to touch upon the chill factor but the execution behind this head-tampering frightfest is notably staggering.

Willing’s somber ode to schlock-induced symbolism of despair and mental destruction is based on the horrifying novel “Doctor Sleep” by Madison Smartt Bell. Overall, the film’s moody and masochistic vibes is put the ultimate limit courtesy of dreary and sluggish images that’s meant to elevate the tension within this disjointed delusional drama. Close Your Eyes can be a startling and surly showcase in flashes of compelling sequences that tap into the raw nerves every now and then. But for the most part, Willing’s sensationalistic exposition fails to cater to the characters’ genuine inner fears thus rendering their inherent peril as vague and incomplete. The characterizations in this morbid mystery are mere pawns for the outlandish exorcising of the cringe-worthy occurrences that predictably shock in telegraphed moments of lunacy. There’s just not enough glimpses of perplexity and profound suspense to cut through the murky outrageousness.

Goran Visnjic (known to American television audiences as the “Croatian George Clooney” cloned doctor from the long-running boob tube drama ER) plays a Middle Eastern hypnotherapist named Michael Strother with unusual hypnotic skills and talents. The mind-mending doctor has recently relocated to London with his wife Clara (Miranda Otto) and child in tow after practicing his craft in Seattle. Apparently the good doctor is recovering from a nightmarish session gone completely awry in the U.S. Northwest and the incident still plagues him to this day. Nevertheless, Dr. Strother is determined to make some financial mends work by taking on a side job of hypnotizing smokers so they can break their bad habits with cigarettes. One of the doctor’s reliable patients is London policewoman Janet Losey (Shirley Henderson) who is quick to enlist her resourceful therapist in trying to help catch an elusive child-murderer.

With the assistance of Strother’s reluctant input, Detective Losey hopes to draw some crucial information out of one of the young victims that was fortunate enough to escape the twisted agenda of her would-be kiddie killer. The tainted little girl (Sophie Stuckey) is understandably terrified and paralyzed by the frightening attack of the sadistic scumbag that she has a tendency to withdraw her recollection of that ominous event. Together, the doctor-cop tandem work relentlessly to try and tap into the fragile mindset of this scared gal that could possibly lead to the capture of this perverted menace. There’s a lot of skepticism to be shared by the onlookers but this unlikely pair push on to repair the tattered soul of this damaged child while taking on the demons of a deranged individual looking to create and spread more havoc and disillusionment about town.

Filmmaker Willing has assembled a capable and cunning cast that willingly succumbs to the fury of the callous content. Despite their sketchy outlines as thorough protagonists, Visnjic and Henderson are quite potent as the doctor-patient duo that is committed to rectifying the horrific happenings while struggling to overcome personal static that haunt them excessively in their flawed and lackluster lives. The supporting cast are somewhat up to the challenge as well, particularly Paddy Considine (In America) as a strange and nebbish enthusiast of roguish religions and Fiona Shaw as the mature resident scholar.

The main problem remains with the hackneyed script that disables the credibility of the flowing story by insisting on shamelessly promoting such a silly-minded supernatural spryness that it takes away from the penetrating poignancy of the riveting proceedings. The aura of the film is saturated with dank-looking London streets and drab gothic parish churches that give this movie its gritty urgency in look and attitude. Beyond the involved interplay between Visnjic’s and Henderson’s connection in mayhem and the promoted flourishes of the visually haunting special effects, Close Your Eyes runs out of steam and has no where else to go with its hypnotic hokey hold.

One can appreciate the morose and eccentric strides that Eyes takes to blink as an odd and creepy composition that gleefully celebrates its genre in the rigorous mode of cult-oriented craftiness. This quirky and carousing BBC production has its sporadic torturous swagger that shows some intermittent tenacity but in the final analysis, this corroding commentary regarding experimental rats and exploited children as manipulative mincemeat is cause enough to drive one of Dr. Strother’s slave-smoking patients to a long overdue nicotine fit.

For films that won’t make you want to close your eyes through the whole thing, check out this page.






Goldeneye (1995)

Goldeneye... possibly the most overrated James Bond of the franchise? Or was it the six year absence of 007, combined with an 80 million dollar budget, that made people pine for anything James Bond? Those are the only possible explanations that I can arrive at to try and explain why this film seems to receive all the praise that it does, because frankly I thought it was one of the worst Bond adventures in the franchise... read on.

Goldeneye sparks the return of James Bond after over a half a decade hiatus. The dark exterior of Timothy Dalton has now been replaced by the actor who was originally offered the role of Bond many years ago when Dalton had turned down the first few offers. Pierce Brosnan takes the reins and harkens the franchise back to a Roger Moore era, where Bond shows a little more interest in the ladies and reacquires his sarcastic wit. Sadly Brosnan's first attempt as Bond seems to only be that, a sad attempt to imitate past predecessors.

With the Cold War now over Bond appears to be a relic of the past, but even Bond is never completely outdated. When renegade Russians, led by Alec Trevelyan ex-MI6 agent and former friend of Bond, gain control of a weapon known as Goldeneye the state of the European financial structure could be in serious trouble. Goldeneye is a device which neutralizes electronic currents, and with it Trevelyan can gain access to all the funds in London, erasing all computerized records from existence, sending the London economy back into the Dark Ages.

Goldeneye seemed to be incredibly sub par on all levels to me. The story was quite boring, and after 45 minutes I realized nothing much had occurred in this film! Compared to past Bond's, Goldeneye spends entirely too much time sitting around chatting rather than letting Bond do what he does best. Of course Bond was the largest reason this film didn't fly with me. My problem with Pierce Brosnan is he doesn't add anything new to the character, he's not different. Say what you want about Moore, Dalton and even Lazenby but one thing they should all be given credit for is they were unique, they all added a little flair to the character. Meanwhile Brosnan looks like a younger Roger Moore pretending to be James Bond and doing a bad job of it. His whole performance feels too forced and makes him appear like he's only playing Bond instead of actually being Bond.

Adding to an already dismal combination of acting and storyline is the unbelievable action sequences, which stretch the comprehension of belief far beyond that of any previous Bond film. When someone plummets from the top of a gigantic satellite dish, that hovers easily a couple hundred feet above the ground, onto the concrete below they should die! Well not in this film, it takes the satellite dish crumbling down atop them to finally finish them off! But with that said I will say I did rather enjoy the ridiculous tank sequence, by far the best part of the film.

Overall, I found myself quite anxious throughout the film waiting for something good to happen, and it's quite sad when I'm missing the corny adventures of Roger Moore while watching a Bond that's made twenty years later and should be ten times more entertaining. In the end, I don't understand the hype and fanfare for this one, it seemed totally out of place in the franchise and had an overall quality of a made for TV spy thriller; but I guess what should I expect with a rather bland storyline and a lead actor who used to play a knockoff version of James Bond on TV! At least now I have an even greater respect for the old films, even the corny ones.

Do you agree with this review? Check out more of the best movies reviews and Hollywood entertainment news at Hollywood Insider.






SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD – MORE WIMP THAN JERK

I’ve got nothing against Michael Cera. He’s a cool guy, great in all his soft-spoken roles. I’ve got nothing against the Scott Pilgrim franchise. On the contrary, I’ve read the books and played the game. But even though I saw the movie first, I don’t think Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a good movie. The only reason I think this is because Michael Cera doesn’t properly portray the wannabe lady-killer jock jerky-jerk that Scott Pilgrim is. Instead, he makes Scott look like an awkward wimp that has his badass moments. It makes his relationship with Ramona look forced and stupid. Oh! Synopsis, right.

Scott Pilgrim dates a high schooler. 17 years old and Chinese, Knives Chau is adorable and impressionable. She loves Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, and thinks he’s a total stud. His life is great! And then he has a dream about Ramona Flowers and meets her at a party. What else can he do but obsess? Why, he can cheat on Knives, of course. After an awkward seduction, he convinces Ramona to give him a chance. Of course, he waits a bit before breaking up with poor Knives. In fact, his cool gay roommate Wallace Wells has to offer him an ultimatum in order to get him to break up with her. Anyway.

During one of their band’s gigs, Scotty boy is attacked by Matthew Patel, the first of Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes. From that point on, our protagonist’s life descends into a real shit-storm of drama. Knives is stalking him, his traumatizing ex, Envy Adams is in town, and she’s brought an evil ex with her. Lucas Lee the pro-skateboarder turned film star came first, though. It seems like everyone wants to kill Scott now that he’s dating Ramona. Worst of all, Ramona’s got some lingering issues with one of her exes from New York. Gideon Gordon Graves, the big bad final boss.

I’m not gonna write out the whole movie for you, because it doesn’t exactly have a complex plot. The movie doesn’t, I mean. It obviously had to omit some of the finer details and backstory in order to shave off enough time to avoid making a modern day video-game oriented Godfather or Titanic. Unfortunately, this also drastically dunks the quality of the movie for those who have read the graphic novels. To be expected, but obnoxious nonetheless.

The entire theme of the books, movie, and game is one collective goofy tribute to retro-gaming. The graphic novels stray from the video-game genre the most, however. In all six books, the plot plays out more like an action hero teen drama more than a level-by level hallway of challenges. The only spectacularly linear aspect to it is the one-at-a-time battles with the evil exes.

So what can I say? Rent the movie first to test the waters. If you like the theme, the gist of all the characters, and the cheesy humor, then it’d probably be a good idea to get the books. They’re no longer at the peak of their popularity, so you can probably get them for a much more reasonable price. Think of them as a much more aesthetic and detailed take on what the movie presents. If you like those, then by all means, go get the game. You can get it on the Playstation Network or the Xbox Live Arcade bauble for maybe five or ten bucks. It is the full tribute to retrogaming, complete with music by the fantastic soundchip band Anamanaguchi.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Good franchise, good stuff. The movie’s icky because of Michael Cera. That is NOT what I envisioned Scott’s hair to look like in real life. Geez Louise. Done.

For more news and reviews of the latest and greatest films streaming on Netflix, visit Hollywood Insider.







 
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